Managing Change in a Post-COVID-19 World
“There is nothing new under the sun.”
“The only constant is change.”
We older adults are familiar with change. We’ve lived long enough and had the diversity of experiences to know that yes, there is nothing new under the sun and yes, change is constant.
But this time, change, well, seems a bit different.
It’s different because we don’t know what we’re changing to, we don’t know what the results of all this change will be. Nobody seems to know.
Do not shake hands. Wear face masks. Practice social or physical distancing. Do not have a gathering of more than ten people. Older people avoid being around millennials and younger people. No cruising, for a while. Travel by air but enter quarantine on arrival. Within seven weeks millions of people in America are unemployed. Around the globe, on every continent, millions of people are “sheltered in place.”
Where will it all lead? When will it end? What will our world look like when these COVID-19-inspired changes have run their course?
It is this uncertainty about what the future will look like that is causing fear, stress, and anxiety. Is there a better way to react to the changes that are unfolding around us daily? Yes, there is: don’t react to change, manage change.
To change is to move from the current situation to a new situation. The new situation may be known or not yet known, as with the times we are in. Change can range from being a simple or minor process to a traumatic or major process.
Change management is a term usually applied in business. It is a “structured approach for ensuring that changes are thoroughly and smoothly implemented, and that the lasting benefits of change are achieved.” This definition is useful even when people and not an organization are the subject of change; for change happens only when the people in the organization “have made their own personal transitions.” Change is a normal process in the course of our lives; but there are times—as with the COVID-19 pandemic—when change is sudden and unplanned, and we need a structured approach to guide us through it. Finally, the definition change management implies that the purpose of change is to bring about a better situation. Indeed, change and growth is one of the characteristics of all living things. Sometimes, however, we don’t know whether the change will result in growth or a worse situation. If we can manage the change well, we can turn the process into an opportunity to grow, to make ourselves and things around us better.
Ways We React to Change
According to business management theorists, people react to change in much the same way that we grieve the loss of a loved one or something important to us. And, just as there are good ways and bad ways to grieve, there are good and bad ways to respond to change.
Management experts use four of the stages of grief to show the pattern we follow as we try to cope with change. These stages are shock, anger and resentment, acceptance, and embrace. It is important to know about these stages and to be able to recognize each one as we try to navigate this new normal courtesy of COVID-19. Our aim is to cope with change not by being stuck in any one place but by growing until we come to a “better place.”
Shock says nothing has changed. This state of mind is a temporary escape from reality that “keeps us from having to face grim reality all at once.…[and] As long as it is temporary, it is good.”
In this stage what we need is to understand what is happening. We need good information from reliable and expert sources. Too much information and information from the wrong sources—in many instances, social media—can deepen denial and leave us unprepared for change or unwilling to move on. So, get your information on COVID-19, as you needed it, from the CDC site, the National Institutes of Health site, coronavirus.gov, or your health care provider.
Anger and resentment
Anger, fear, resentment set in as we become aware of the potential and imagined losses change may cause us—our independence, our health, time with loved ones, financial security in retirement. This stage is called the danger zone.
We can become quite anxious about the future, especially if we are correct about some of the outcomes. As a result, we may attempt to resist change actively or passively.
There are some other emotions we may experience at this point: depression and isolation, believing that no one else is experiencing what we are and, worse yet, no one cares. “We say God does not care. We may even doubt that there is a God.”
We must not allow anger, fear, resentment, anxiety, self-pity, doubt to take over our lives. What we need during this stage is someone to come alongside us, to listen to us, and to support us by reminding us that good can come out of it all. We also need to be aware of what we are feeling. Talking to a trusted and sober-minded friend or professional is helpful. So is journaling.
What we must not do in this stage is binge eat, drink, or smoke, or even lie around for hours watching television. Such behavior can only prolong the time we spend in this stage.
Acceptance is called the turning point in how we deal with change and it is characterized by optimism and hope.
We know when we’ve entered this stage because we’re no longer focused on what we may have lost. We start to let go of what used to be and we accept what change would mean for our life. We remind ourselves that growth and change is one of the characteristics of all living things, and we are alive. By accepting change, we “learn the reality of what is good and not so good” and how to adapt.
In the embrace stage of the change process, we start to commit to the new way of doing things; the changes start to become second nature—nods instead of handshakes, meetups through Zoom rather than at the downtown café, face masks to match our outfits. Whether it is our change in attitude or behavior or both, we begin to see how the changes can better our life.
Consequences of Not Managing Personal Change
The consequences to an organization of not managing change are chaos and disruption to the business. The consequences to the individual likewise can be negative. The COVID-19 pandemic will change us—how we live, how we think about the future, and how we value people, places and things. Trying to deny or ignore the “new normal” that is emerging or wishing for things to return to the way they were will not stop the changes. Our efforts may, however, damage our mental health and cause us to misuse precious time. We will miss the opportunity to become stronger people, people who can help others adapt to change.
Deciding to Adapt to Change
Our approach change should be structured on at least three pillars:
- An anchor. An anchor, in this instance, is something so grounded that if we attach ourselves to it, we would not drift or be pulled out to a proverbial sea against our will. We can hold onto the anchor knowing that its essence is solid, true, perfect, and permanent. Who or what is your anchor?
- A vision for our life, at every age. The capacity to hold a vision for one’s life is a uniquely human characteristic, I believe, for it requires creativity and the understanding of purpose. Vision is a powerful force for living.
- Resilient mindset. The human spirit is amazingly resilient. It has the ability to bounce back after a setback. Accepting change brings peace as the serenity prayer, often said at Alcohol Anonymous, reminds us:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
 Malachi 3:6.
 Granger Westberg, Good Grief.
 Good Grief.
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